Author and educator Eileen Sanchez to present "Crossing Over: Race in Education" at Centenary

SHREVEPORT, LA — Retired educator Eileen Sanchez, author of the new novel Freedom Lessons, will visit Centenary on Thursday, February 13, for a discussion of her book and the experiences that inspired it. The discussion evening, entitled “Crossing Over: Race in Education,” begins at 7:00 p.m. in the Whited Room in Bynum Commons and is free and open to the public.

Freedom Lessons draws heavily on Sanchez’s own experiences as a young, white teacher in the Jim Crow South during desegregation. The story alternates between the viewpoints of three very different but inextricably linked characters: Colleen, a white northern teacher thrust into the unfamiliar environment of the reluctantly desegregating South; Frank, a black high school football player; and Evelyn, a veteran teacher and prominent member of the local black community.

“I hope readers will understand from Freedom Lessons that we need to consider others’ assumptions about us, and challenge our assumptions about others,” Sanchez has said of her book. “We all need some self-reflection for our actions and to not shy away from hard conversations. Can we learn from our past? I hope so.”     

Dr. Michael Hicks, assistant professor of education at Centenary, was originally connected with Sanchez through a local retired education administrator, Gary Clarke, who had studied desegregation and especially “the crossover,” when white teachers were sent to work in predominantly black schools for the first time. In Louisiana, this process began in the 1969-1970 school year. Clarke mentioned that Sanchez was writing a novel based on her first-hand experiences during this time, and Hicks was intrigued. After Hicks contacted Sanchez at her home in New Jersey, she sent him a copy of Freedom Lessons for copy-editing.

“I had already been thinking about the subject of the crossover and was planning on writing a history,” says Hicks. “Once I talked to Eileen, though, I knew that I could not tell the story in the same way. Through Freedom Lessons, she is telling the story in a uniquely artistic way. I believe that the arts can be pivotal for moving the conversation about race forward, and she is advancing the conversation for justice and fairness through the arts.”

Hicks and Dr. Chris Ciocchetti, associate professor of philosophy, have both assigned Freedom Lessons as part of their Trek 116 Challenge courses this spring. Trek Challenge courses, taken by all first-year students in the spring, offer in-depth, research-driven investigations into some of the most pressing concerns of the 21st century. Hicks’s course, Doing Race, is a multi-disciplinary look at the construct of “race” and its profound effects on society and individuals. Ciocchetti is teaching Bloody Caddo: Criminal Justice in Caddo Parish, a course which not only investigates the history of criminal justice in Caddo Parish but also requires students to collectively choose an action they could take to make Caddo Parish more just.

“The artistic approach that Eileen takes in Freedom Lessons seems to really be resonating with my students in Doing Race,” says Hicks. “I am thrilled that she will be at Centenary to share her heart and her story with them in person.”


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